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The Cornbread Suppers Commence

Cornsticks in Blue BowlThe Cornbread Suppers launched tonight, and will continue weekly on Mondays, 6:00 PM. My main man and I had talked for years about hosting some kind of weekly convivial event, something that would have delightful qualities like "always there" and "no expectations." We settled on the idea of cornbread suppers after reading this wonderful story about cornbread and couche-couche suppers in Louisiana, and after reading in several sources how cornbread became central to working Kentucky farm families. One excellent source is Food and Everyday Life on Kentucky Family Farms, 1920 - 1950, by John Van Willigen and Anne Van Willigen.

Corn and cornbread fit us for so many reasons. Corn grows well in Kentucky. Individual farmers can, if needed, harvest and prepare corn without needing much special equipment. Women working in gardens and fields can come into the house to prepare a midday meal and make cornbread in minutes from foods produced on the farm, with only the salt and leavening agents bought off the farm. Cornbread puts bacon drippings and soured milk to excellent use. It cooks beautifully in cast iron skillets -- still fantastically inexpensive, indestructible, irreplaceable cookware today.

Not unlike a farming woman, I got in a hurry tonight and needed to make cornbread fast. As it turned out, it was possible to make a LOT of cornbread, start to finish, in 60 minutes. The pans and the 500 degree oven were the stars: -- one Dutch oven, two large skillets, two small skillets, one cornstick pan and one corn muffin pan.

I made three types of cornbread for our inaugural cornbread supper: traditional Kentucky cornbread with bacon fat, no flour, no sugar; vegetarian cornbread with homemade feta and chives from our herb bed; "everything" cornbread with bacon, onion, and corn from my sweet brother's 2008 garden.

I didn't use recipes, but I followed the principles my mother learned from her mother:

  • No flour
  • No sugar
  • Extremely hot oven, at least 450 degrees
  • Seasoned cast iron skillets heated in the oven until very hot
  • Oil or grease (bacon grease the most prized) heated in the skillets until smoking
  • Coarsely ground or unbolted white cornmeal -- I used Weisenberger's Unbolted White from Good Foods Market
  • Buttermilk, eggs, salt-soda-baking powder
  • The superheated grease and boiling water added at the last minute
  • A batter somewhere between wet and runny
  • Deep browning in the oven

People brought such tasty dishes to go with the cornbread: chili with sausage, chickpeas with Indian spices, black beans with white rice and black beans with savory spices, chicken-summer squash casserole, lentils with pasta, four different salads, a plate of ham and mustard, pita and hummus, an eggplant/tomato/mozzarella casserole made with homegrown and local ingredients, and the Maestro's biscotti.

It made me happy, too, that some people who could not bring food came anyway, as we had encouraged. Even if there were not plenty of other food, the cornbread itself, as we know from the Louisiana story, nourishes both body and spirit.

Our hopes for these weekly suppers:

1. To offer a standing option to make one weeknight meal convivial
2. To establish a "Cornbread Salon" where the people behind all manner of good projects and ideas can connect
3. To lighten burdens and add joy
4. To nourish body, mind, spirit, and community

If you live in central Kentucky or you'll be visiting on a Monday and want to join a cornbread supper, call 859.317.9132 for details. Crust and crunch await you.

Photo Credit: Geoff Maddock: Thank you!

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